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Bertha Pappenheim, Freud and complementarianism

November 13, 2012

Did a form of complementarianism set Freud on the road to analysing female psychological dysfunction?

Bertha Pappenheim, founder of the League of Jewish Women, committed her life to rescuing Jewish women from sex slavery and prostitution. She founded homes for single mothers, illegitimate children and orphans. She also translated the Yiddish Women’s Bible into German. She engaged with Buber and Rosenzweig on translation issues among other things, 

In 1920, she was recruited by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig to teach at the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus, a center for Jewish studies they had founded in Frankfurt and where she mingled with Siegfried Kracauer, Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Gershom Scholem.

She was also the mysterious young woman, Anna O., on whose treatment psychoanalysis was founded. And she was, I will suggest, also a crusader against complementarianism, the belief in “separate but equal” roles for women. The question we can ask is whether the complementarianism that Bertha Pappenheim experienced brought about the origin of psychoanalysis. Was the hysteria that she exhibited a result of the complementarian upbringing and environment that she endured? (Daniel Boyarin expresses his view and nuances the question here, arguing that it was not the restrictions in education that were her lot as a Jewish girl, but rather, the restrictions in career opportunities as a young woman in Vienna, which contributed to her trauma.)

In Let Me Continue to Speak the Truth: Bertha Pappenheim As Author and Activist by Elizabeth Loentz, pages 47 and 48, we can read about the disagreement between Bertha Pappenheim, who felt unfulfilled by her education or by her career prospects as a woman, we are not sure which; and Edith Rosenzweig, Franz Rosenzweig’s wife, who had a doctorate and did not consider that she experienced intolerable restrictions as a woman.

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